Melody of Healing
Health care facilities nationwide recognize the healing power of music played at a patient’s bedside. As the philosopher Plato said, “Rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.”
The first time Terri Matkosky Fevang ’86 played music for a hospice patient, she played for the mother of a longtime friend.
“We created this amazing sacred space. It’s a space where there are no worries; everyone feels peaceful,” she says. “It doesn’t really exist in our normal lives. It only exists if you’re able to observe the transitioning of human life.” Two hours later, her friend’s mother passed away.
Fevang is a therapeutic musician who practices in various divisions of the University of Maryland Medical Center and Mercy Hospital, both in Baltimore. She also plays music on her keyboard at Hospice of the Chesapeake in Pasadena, Md. She grew up playing piano and writing music, but it wasn’t until she became a therapeutic musician that she found purpose.
“Once I found this career, everything I ever did in my life made sense. Every note I ever wrote in my life made sense,” says Fevang.
A therapeutic musician is defined as someone who provides one-on-one music for the ill and dying, with the intention of creating a healing environment. Therapeutic music differs from music therapy, which is more akin to physical therapy and uses music to achieve goals over a period of time.
Fevang uses the vibration of music to enhance the patients’ physical and mental states, change heart rates and oxygen levels, and reduce pain and anxiety.
“Healing doesn’t necessarily mean curing — it can — but very often it means balance: balancing mind, body, and spirit,” Fevang says. “The music can serve to create a space where the person who is actively dying can feel safe to leave.”
At the University of Maryland Medical Center, Fevang is a member of the Integrative Care Team. The team works under doctors’ orders as an acknowledged tool used to aid in conventional treatments.
For her musical selections, Fevang draws inspiration from film soundtracks. She is a fan of British composer Richard Rodney Bennett, Italian composer Ennio Morricone, and music from the 1970 TV movie Scrooge.
“I take something that someone else has done, but then transform it into something that will come through me and reach the patient,” Fevang says. “Most pieces are written for orchestras, so I break the music down to its barest characteristics. In the moment, I decide how I’m going to interpret the music to meet the patient’s needs. I can change the key it’s written in, play all the chords, or just a simple melody. I can play it slower to relax the patient, or faster to lift the patient up.”
Music can have great power if it’s being used intentionally. “What’s the difference between hearing your favorite musician in concert, as opposed to sitting at home in your living room? In concert, the musician is intentionally playing to get you to feel something. The musician is bringing something to life. It can transform you and the space you’re occupying,” Fevang says. “Everything I play is embedded in every cell of my body. I’m intending it in a peaceful, loving, healing way.”
Originally from the village of Peckville, a few miles north of Scranton, Fevang studied theatre and mass communications at Bloomsburg University. She did an internship with Maryland Public Television between her junior and senior years, and met her future husband, Michael Fevang.
After graduation, she moved to Baltimore to begin her career in TV production. Through connections with the sound department at the TV station, she was introduced to composing music for film and TV and, in the early 1990s, wrote music for television stations, including PBS. But when her children, Graham and Georgia, were born in 1996 and 2000, she realized that the short deadlines weren’t conducive to family life.
Re-entering the job market in fall 2011, Fervang came across an online posting for a certified music practitioner (CMP). For the next year and a half, she studied to become a CMP through the Music for Healing and Transition Program, a not-for-profit therapeutic music educational program.
The certification required Fevang to intern in a variety of medical settings and play 45 hours of bedside music. She had a stand custom built for her keyboard so she could wheel it around the hospitals.
One of the places she interned was at the University of Maryland Medical Center’s shock trauma center. “I remember thinking, ‘How can I do this among all this intensity, heartbreak, and pain?’ ” Fevang says. “Then my husband said, ‘If you can help, you should help’ and I realized, if I could get past the fear, this could be something I’m meant to do.” •
For more information, contact Terri Fevang at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan Field ’11/’12M is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.